The Tampa Bay Lightning came back to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday night 3-2, in overtime, after displaying an up and down effort over the course of the game. Things seemed a little odd from the first puck drop as coach Jon Cooper started Cedric Paquette, Chris Kunitz, and Ryan Callahan against the Jonathan Toews line. In my mind, Cooper wanted to use the Point line to handle the Patrick Kane line and once the lines started rolling, that proved to be true.
Unfortunately, some talk on twitter circled around the inclusion of Andrej Sustr being dressed instead of Slater Koekkoek and the flaws of Sustr became clear early on. Sustr’s positioning and misplays with the puck led to three different odd-man rushes during the first, and if it wasn’t for Andrei Vasilevskiy making some timely saves, the score could’ve been worse.
The first goal was scored by Patrick Kane who received a pass from Artem Anisimov at the Blackhawks blueline. Kane promptly raced down the left wing and fired a laser of a shot past Vasilevskiy to give the Blackhawks an early lead. Anton Stralman made a slight pinch on Anisimov to try and poke check but missed. I have no issue with Stralman’s pinch here, the play by Anisimov to shield the puck and get a pass to Kane was just a good play. As for the shot by Kane? He’s a big game player for a reason and that was one hell of a shot. You can’t stop them all.
Tampa Bay was uncharacteristically sloppy in the first. Chicago controlled the game at even strength and the only real offensive pressure Tampa had was the five-minute power-play (which then became a 45 second 5-on-3). By offensive pressure, I mean being in the offensive zone. Because the Lightning did nothing on their prolonged power-play.
This, of course, led to Chicago gaining momentum and Tampa taking penalties. First, Yanni Gourde took a slashing call and then Victor Hedman was called for a delay of game penalty for putting the puck over the glass (the absolute dumbest penalty in the NHL). Thus, a 5-on-3 for Chicago resulted and Chicago proceeded to dance around Tampa Bay’s penalty kill until Patrick Kane scored his second of the game. There wasn't much Tampa Bay could do on the 5-on-3. They were scrambling as Chicago passed the puck around the zone at will. Vasilevskiy made a variety of saves early during the penalty kill, but the young Russian could only do so much.
Poor is the only description that can be properly attributed to what Tampa Bay put forth in the first 20 minutes of the game. They had small spurts of life, but it was a period to forget for the Lightning.
A more focused and structured Lightning team came onto the ice for the second period. Overall, Tampa Bay limited Chicago to six shots in the period (compared to the 13 they allowed in the first) and this time the Lightning penalty kill became the spark plug for momentum.
Victor Hedman hasn’t had the most sterling start to the season, but he reminded everyone why is a perennial Norris candidate when he did all of the work to set up Ondrej Palat’s shorthanded goal. He single-handedly covered Patrick Kane, blocked his shot, and then outskated Kane down the ice into the offensive zone. Hedman pulled two Blackhawk defenders towards his side of the ice and then threw a beautiful blind pass to a trailing Ryan Callahan who then passed it to Ondrej Palat for the one-timer. Palat beat Corey Crawford high on the short side to give Tampa Bay some much-needed life.
Tampa Bay noticeably became the aggressor as the period progressed. They forced Chicago into a few hair-raising situations but were unable to convert on any of them. Heading into the second intermission had a feeling that Tampa Bay was going to come back and make this a game.
Fittingly, the line that started the game (and drew some raised eyebrows) was the line that gave the Lightning the tying goal. Ryan Callahan came into the Blackhawks zone after retrieving a loose puck. He cycled the puck to the point before passing the puck to Kunitz. Kunitz then gave it back to Callahan as he shot the puck towards the net. A scrum occurred in front of Crawford before Chris Kunitz managed to push it past him to tie the game at two.
Kunitz’s goal set the tone for the Lightning and they carried play throughout. There were some hair-raising moments for Tampa Bay, but Vasilevskiy was there to hold down the fort (the poke check with under a minute left to deflect the puck away from a wide open Kane was astounding). It needs to be mentioned that Corey Crawford also played a fantastic game and if it wasn’t for him, Tampa could’ve sunk the Blackhawks in the third.
Unfortunately, neither team was able to capitalize on their chances and overtime (in addition my heart rate going up) was to come.
Ok, so I’m going to recap overtime through my mindset at any given moment.
First minute of overtime: Ok, back and forth. Good saves by both goalies.
Second minute of overtime: PATRICK KANE IS ON A BREAKAWAY WITH A CHANCE FOR A HAT TRICK OH MY GOD! **Vasilevskiy stones Kane** ANDREI VASILEVSKIY ISN’T A HUMAN BEING! HE’S A RUSSIAN ROBOT SENT FROM THE FUTURE TO CRUSH THE SOULS OF OPPOSING SHOOTERS!
Third minute of overtime: This team is going to be the death of me, I swear.
Fourth minute of overtime: Good pressure by Tampa Bay. Wait, a penalty? Really? **sees replay** That’s...iffy if you ask me.
**Point scores the OT winner**: Ok, I can breathe now. I literally held my breath during the entire power-play in overtime.
Tampa Bay outplayed Chicago after the first period, but it still had defensive breakdowns that caused the whole of Amalie to hold their breaths. Nonetheless, the turning point was Palat’s shorthanded goal (due to the herculean efforts of Hedman). Kunitz scoring early in the third galvanized the Lightning even more and it showed in their play. Corey Crawford deserves a shoutout for how outstanding he played and the Blackhawks forwards did a very good job at attacking the Lightning’s slower defensemen all night. In the end, Tampa Bay pulled off their second straight comeback against the Blackhawks (last season they came back after being down 4-1). They have yet to lose two in a row this season and continue to be the class of the NHL.
The Russian robot from the future
Andrei Vasilevskiy has been lauded time and time again this season for his play in net, and deservedly so. Tonight, yet again, he reinforced why he is going to be a star in this league. The two goals against can’t be blamed on him and aside from those goals, he was a wall in net. One-timers, deflections, and in-close chances flew at him in bunches and he kept his team alive. No save was more important than the Patrick Kane breakaway in overtime. The entire arena stood on its feet as Kane came in on Vasilevskiy—you could almost hear a pin drop. Once Vasilevskiy stopped Kane, the entire place erupted in praise for him and the following possession in the Blackhawks zone led to the penalty that ultimately sealed the game.
Vasilevskiy isn’t human. He is a Russian robot from the future sent here to crush the souls of opposing shooters.
I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical of the Paquette line starting and handling the Toews line this evening. They’ve had their moments of being strong, but tonight was a different story. Toews was held to one shot all night and Ryan Callahan probably had his best game of the season. Callahan had two partial breakaways, was constantly on the forecheck, and was the driver behind Kunitz’s tying goal. Paquette’s return was a welcome one as his grittiness was apparent early and often. And we can’t forget Kunitz, the man who just keeps skating and keeps playing. He pounced on a loose puck to get the tying goal and was harassing Blackhawk players all evening. When Tampa Bay’s top line struggled, it was the fourth line (and the Point line) that gave the Lightning life.
Tampa Bay came into tonight with a power-play unit clicking at 28% (not sustainable, obviously) and before Brayden Point scored in overtime, the unit was 0-for-5. They never looked comfortable against the Blackhawks penalty killers and my tweet about it sums up my observations.
Yes, the unit came through when they needed it most, but that doesn’t absolve the unit from being criticized for being unimpactful for much of the game.
Stamkos and Namestnikov both had a point this evening, but it came in overtime and on the power-play. At even strength, the Stamkov line just wasn’t jiving the way we’ve grown accustomed to. Vladislav Namestnikov was at 44% CF%, Kucherov was 47%, and Stamkos was the only one over 50% at 52%. They looked off and lost more puck battles in the corners than I’ve ever seen this season.
It was bound to happen at some point, we couldn’t reasonably expect this line to continue to light up every team every night. However, it does have to be noted when they are off. Luckily, the rest of the roster came through when the top line couldn’t get things going. That’s what good teams do. That’s why many in the NHL world praise Tampa for its depth. There will be other nights when the Stamkov line struggles, and hopefully the depth general manager Steve Yzerman has accrued comes through again.